Micromanagers are toxic and unpredictable. They may watch your every move, criticize you for not doing a perfect job or refuse to give you the freedom or support to make your own decisions.
Chances are, you’ve experienced this situation in your career. Even if you’ve been spared the draining drama of reporting to one, you likely still will need to help employees stuck in such a situation. If these problems aren’t addressed, they can drive down productivity while also driving away otherwise good employees who are being stymied by the situation.
“Micromanaging means applying excessive control,” says Halelly Azulay, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of TalentGrow and creator and host of The TalentGrow Show podcast. “Managers need to learn to provide the right level of balance between autonomy and control based on the specifics of the person and the task.”
You may not be able to change a micromanager’s behavior, but you can learn to handle them better. Addressing the issues respectfully, but head-on, will make the manager-employee relationship more productive and create a better work environment for everyone involved in the process. These tips don’t just apply if you are in this challenging situation yourself — they can also help you coach a colleague through it.
If you’re having trouble working with your micromanager, then meet with them to discuss how you can make progress moving forward. In this conversation, don’t blame your micromanager or put them down. Instead, come up with a checklist of different things you can do to improve communication and make their job easier.
“This might be a difficult conversation, [since] giving this kind of feedback is often uncomfortable for both parties,” says Azulay. “But I think that it’s important to give them the benefit of the doubt and give them the chance to discover that there’s a problem for you.”
If you go about the meeting in a polite fashion, then you could end up strengthening your relationship. “You will probably increase the level of trust, intimacy, cooperation and respect between you by showing that you care enough to be open and vulnerable,” Azulay says.
You might try to keep your micromanager out of your business, but that’s not the right approach. Instead, you should tell them what’s going on — especially in this new remote workplace, where they can’t see you on a daily basis.
You may not be able to change a micromanager’s behavior, but you can learn to handle them better. Addressing the issues respectfully, but head-on, will make the manager-employee relationship more productive and create a better work environment for everyone involved in the process.
“Though it may be difficult, one of the most peaceful ways to resolve a micromanagement problem is to make them feel involved in your work,” says Xavier Morales, Esq., a trademark attorney in Texas and CEO of Secure Your Trademark. “A micromanager will often want to feel needed, so try involving them in affairs.”
Whether or not your micromanager requires them, you should send them regular progress reports to assure them that you are staying on track with tasks, says Michael Hammelburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group. This is imperative for at-home workers, since you can’t meet with your micromanager face to face and let them know how things are going.
Micromanagers may get nervous about whether work will happen on time and to their satisfaction. According to Azulay, this is especially true when it comes to remote work.
“We have not yet established routines and patterns for working in this new way,” she says. “And what we now know from cognitive [science] and neuroscience is that humans are hardwired to crave certainty. It makes us feel safe.”
In order to make your micromanager feel safer, instead of communicating on a need-to-know basis, be in communication more often. For instance, Azulay says you could ask your micromanager, “Would it be OK with you if I send you a quick bullet-point status update at the close of business each day in the next couple of weeks?” or “May I send you a progress report on [insert day of week]?”
You could tell your micromanager that you thought it would be good to let them know your progress on a task. Make sure you actually follow through and send confident and competent updates at the same time every time as promised, says Azulay.
Morales says another way to improve communication is to check in on your law firm’s communication platform (like Slack, Teams or email) every single day. “This way, your boss will come to see you as trustworthy and reliable.”
If you’re having a challenging time dealing with your micromanager, you need to incorporate self-care into your routine.
“Meet their expectations but then set aside a ‘me’ time every day at the office (or at home when working on a WFH setup) to compose your thoughts and maintain your mental health,” says Hammelburger.
If you’re having trouble working with your micromanager, then meet with them to discuss how you can make progress moving forward.
Azulay adds that you could go for a brisk walk, talk to a best friend, listen to uplifting music, volunteer to help out in your community, pick a fun hobby or cuddle with your pets.
“These are just a few examples of activities you could do for short breaks throughout your day to shift your mood into a more relaxed, positive one. Take care of yourself so you can do a great job for your firm,” she says.
Of course, you need to look at your own behavior and take personal accountability for your work results and outcomes as well as your impact on others, according to Azulay. You can’t always point the finger at your micromanager for a negative work environment in your law firm; you need to improve how you work, too.
“Always take ownership of your part, step up to help and ‘criticize by creating,’” she says. “When something seems broken or ineffective, instead of ignoring or complaining, take the lead on suggesting solutions and building something better. This will make you an indispensable employee to your boss. Plus, you’ll gain valuable experience that will prime you for your next desired role.”
No work situation is ever perfect, and it can be easy to slip into a negative pattern when you’re in an unhappy work situation. But it can help to focus on your own attitude and try to find the positives about your environment. If nothing else, it’ll be a learning experience that you call upon throughout your career.